April 4, 2005 | Ask Gael

Where would you go to goof off a little?

       Asia de Cuba tickled my senses from the moment in 1997 when I first checked into the chic and sexy duplex at Morgan's Hotel, with its billowing white curtains and cosmetic glow. Seven years later, the nightcrawlers who define “hot” are inevitably gone. But from our tall half-moon of white pebbled leather, we watch lissome juniors in bits of clinging rayon and hungry Lotharios in twos and threes, flirting at the 30-foot slash of marble that makes a radiant communal table. Unlike the typical Chino-Latino hash houses on upper Broadway, Asia de Cuba mixes up a Tower of Babel in every dish. Many favorites from that original menu survive: tunapica, for one, a tartare with olives, currants, almonds, coconut, and wonton crisps; the oxtail spring roll; and the mountainous haystack of fried calamari, chayote, hearts of palm, bananas, and cashews in a sesame-orange vinaigrette. Ropa viéja of duck, a Cuban-spiced chicken, and Char Sui short ribs with tostones are musts. As always, we’ve ordered much too much, since these platters really are for sharing (unlike the tortured little portions waiters elsewhere insist we must divide). Our remarkably amiable waiter crouches on his heels. “I can’t see you otherwise,” he explains. “The light hanging over your table blinds me. Designers - what do they know?”

237 Madison Ave. nr. 37th St. 212 726 7755

Patina Restaurant Group